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What to Do When You're Disappointed

Disappointment, after all, is not the end.

We don’t look forward to being disappointed, but we all experience disappointment from time to time.

It may be that someone wasn’t as agreeable to your request as you’d hoped or they weren’t able to give the support you needed. It may be that you didn’t get the job or the house or the award. In one way or another something didn’t meet your hopes or expectations.

Given that disappointment is unavoidable, it’s helpful to know how to navigate it when it comes.

Let yourself feel the disappointment

Disappointment isn’t necessarily pleasant to experience and it’s tempting to try to move on as quickly as possible. We may even believe that we shouldn’t be disappointed. But…if you’re disappointed, then you’re disappointed.

We don’t want to stay wallowing in the disappointment to the point that we don’t start hoping for something new, but acknowledging that we’re disappointed can actually help us process the experience so we can move through it.

Set aside some time to really feel that disappointment. What does it feel like? Where do you notice it showing up in your body? What do you feel like doing? Can you give yourself permission to do that? Set a timer to create a container for the experience. Then, go ahead and cry, punch pillows, scream into a towel, whatever you need to do to give that disappointment expression.

Self-compassion and self-care

Criticizing ourselves for being disappointed or trying to force ourselves to just move on isn’t helpful and it isn’t kind. Instead, what if you acknowledged disappointment as a very normal human experience? What if you acknowledged that it’s hard to not get the outcome you’d hoped for? What if you treated yourself as you would treat a dear friend experiencing a disappointment?

We’re more able to recover and move forward when we feel seen and supported than when we feel criticized. That support is something we can give to ourselves.

As you’re showing yourself compassion, consider what would feel good. What are the things that bring you joy? Taking care of ourselves when we’re disappointed isn’t about pretending we’re happy when we’re not—rather it’s a reminder that we can experience joy alongside our disappointment. Go for a walk, spend time in nature, cozy up with a good book and a cup of tea…whatever would be enjoyable and restorative for you. Revisit your list of ways to restore your energy and calm for ideas.

Tell someone

Many of us tend to avoid telling people when there’s a possibility we’re excited about. If they don’t know we care, then they won’t realize we’re disappointed if things don’t turn out the way we’d hoped. It’s vulnerable to let people see what matters to us. What if they think there’s something wrong with us if we don’t get what we wanted?

The problem with this is that it means we face the hard stuff alone. When we keep our disappointment hidden, we have to pretend to others that everything is fine when it’s actually not. When our disappointment is a secret, it feels like something we should be ashamed of instead of a very normal human experience. We can start to believe there’s something wrong with us and lose hope for the future.

On the other hand, if we tell someone we trust that we’re disappointed, they can give us empathy and support. Chances are good that they’ve experienced disappointment too. Instead of being something to hide and face alone, our disappointment can actually deepen our connection with others. Personally, I want the people I care about to come to me with the hard things, not just the happy ones. That needs to work both ways.

Watch what you make it mean

It’s painful when things don’t go the way we’d hoped and it’s tempting to go looking for someone to blame. We might blame ourselves for not being good enough or blame someone else in any number of ways. This blame likely doesn’t change the situation and turning to anger can be a way to avoid feeling our disappointment (see point #1). Try separating the facts from your stories about them to help you notice what meaning you’re attaching.

Figure out what’s next…even if it’s tiny

Disappointment can stop us in our tracks. When the way forward we’d hoped for doesn’t happen, we can end up stuck, struggling to see possibilities. It’s ok to be disappointed, but we don’t want to stay there. Try taking action in some way, even if it feels like a ridiculously tiny step.

The action you choose can be in the area of your disappointment or something else entirely. What matters is creating some movement and possibility in your life. Disappointment, after all, isn’t the end. If you’re having trouble figuring out a next step, try brainstorming possibilities with a trusted person.

I’m curious…what would you add to this list? What is something you’re looking forward to and how will you support yourself if it doesn’t go as you hope?